East Asian Digital Scholarship Series; co-sponsored by Harvard-Yenching Library, Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, and Korea Institute
Peter Bol (Harvard University, China Biographical Database) Grace Fong (McGill University, Ming-Qing Women’s Writings) Andrew Gordon (Harvard University, Japan Disasters Digital Archive Project) Helen Hardacre (Harvard University, Constitutional Revision Research Project)
It is difficult to start a digital scholarship project. Maintaining it for decades is even more difficult. In this year’s first forum of the East Asian Digital Scholarship Series, we invite the founders of four long-running North American-based projects. Peter Bol, Grace Fong, Andrew Gordon, and Helen Hardacre will share their experiences in building and leading digital scholarship projects.
The East Asian Digital Scholarship Series, founded by Feng-en Tu and Sharon Yang, has been a monthly luncheon at Harvard-Yenching Library. This year, the Series will be conducted remotely and is sponsored by Harvard-Yenching Library with the support of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, and Korea Institute. The Series will cover a wide range of topics in East Asian digital scholarship.
Abstract Forty years after the people’s uprising and state massacre took place in Gwangju during the spring month of May 1980, what is now widely known as “5.18” remains a contested history. Just these past years, we have seen new facts about the tragedy unearthed, new testimonies made on public record, and old fabrications and fallacies resurfacing in news feeds. In light of the increasing pertinence of people’s rise against social injustices across the globe today, this panel seeks to revisit the structure and semantics of platforms through which the newsreels, photographs, paintings, songs, and revolutionary affect of Gwangju have been documented and transmitted across geographic and temporal boundaries. This history of transmission, as much as the history of representation, is important particularly because the political potential of Gwangju lies not only in the actual event of coalition formation (“absolute community”) in the face of a state massacre, but also in the power of that historical fact as it traveled beyond the initial ten days in Gwangju. If the 20th-anniversary edited volume Contentious Kwangju reassessed the uprising in light of the institution of South Korean democracy in 1987 and the national politics of commemoration in the 1990s, this roundtable expands on the transnational and global aspects of 5.18 and its legacy. With the goal of situating 5.18 within the transnational history of revolution, the presentations highlight the interdisciplinary aspects of social movements and historicization of their potential impact on future revolutions.
PRESENTATION 1 Short-circuiting Seoul, Reaching Afar to Germany, Japan, and the US: The Photographs of Gwangju in 1980
Sohl Lee, Assistant Professor of Modern and Contemporary East Asian Art, Department of Art, Stony Brook University
While the access to the truth of the Gwangju Uprising was limited for most citizens of South Korea, those living in Germany, Japan, and the US could view photographic images and documentary footage from Gwangju almost immediately after the uprising and its resultant massacre. The extent of transnational pathway through which the images of Gwangju travelled is testament to the transnational nature of South Korean pro-democracy movement, a significant aspect too often overlooked. What does the examination of media platforms that carried the message of Gwangju reveal today about the sociocultural significance of the event in the global scale--and the subsequent struggles against dictatorship and for citizenry rights that unfolded in 1980s South Korea? How did the spaces of anti-authoritarian state pro-democracy movement emerge by bypassing the state apparatus? What was the role of overseas Korean populations? Each set of stakeholders outside the peninsula forged distinct relationships with the event and its aftermath, and this diversity compels a reconsideration of the global significance of 5.18.
PRESENTATION 2 “March for the Beloved” and the Making of a Counter-Republic in South Korea
Susan Hwang, Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Indiana University Bloomington
In 1982, a group of writers and musicians gathered in Gwangju to clandestinely perform “March for the Beloved” (Im ŭl wihan haengjin-gok), a song created to honor the “soul marriage” of two activists who had died in the Kwangju Uprising two years prior. Over the following decades, the song emerged as a central piece in South Korea’s repertoire of resistance, resurfacing in March 2017 during months of sustained popular demonstrations that led to the impeachment of Park Geun-hye. And beyond South Korea, the song would become a call to action in various other parts of Asia, including Hong Kong, China, Japan, Malaysia, and Thailand. This paper examines the role that the Gwangju Uprising played in the process of South Korea’s democratization, and argues that “March for the Beloved” was instrumental in transforming the victims of state violence into martyrs and the subalterns of an unlawful republic into political subjects of a morally righteous counter-republic. This paper analyzes the people-oriented cultural practices behind the birth of the song, as well as the performative elements in the making of the song into an anthem of the counter-state. In conclusion, the paper discusses the ongoing controversy over the song as an occasion to think about the reification of Gwangju and the perpetual struggle over its signification in South Korea’s contemporary moment.
PRESENTATION 3 Smoke Signals: Framing the Gwangju Uprising in North Korea
Douglas Gabriel, Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute of Korean Studies, George Washington University
From May 18, 1980, news of the Gwangju Uprising dominated the North Korean media. Finally, it seemed, South Korean students had taken up Kim Il-sung’s call to “thoroughly defend the interests of the workers and peasants, go deeply among the masses of workers and peasants and fight in close unity with them.” In turn, North Korean cultural producers—including painters, illustrators, filmmakers and documentarians—began mythologizing the event through representational reconstructions. On the surface, these works asserted a correspondence between the actions of the protestors at Gwangju and the vision of reunification sponsored by the North Korean state. Images of South Korean youth activists functioned chiefly as a means of bolstering government policies by framing the southern half of the peninsula as an illegitimate puppet state of the United States. In the process, however, visual artists employed peculiar compositional framing devices aimed at keeping viewers at bay, often presenting the unruly figurative content of their works as dream images detached from the immediate circumstances of North Korean audiences who, it was implied, had no reason to revolt against their own government. Perhaps paradoxically, North Korean artists’ representations of the uprising had the effect of acknowledging and modeling ways of acting politically that exceeded the ideological lens through which they otherwise viewed the world.
Moderated by Paul Chang, Associate Professor of Sociology, Harvard University